Opposing lawsuits were recently filed by Dish Network and three television networks over a new feature offered by Dish called Auto Hop. Auto Hop allows Dish subscribers to skip all the advertising automatically during most prime-time shows. Technology allowing viewers to remove all ads with the touch of a button makes ad-skipping significantly easier.
Auto Hop is not a new idea. The feature has been technically feasible for more than a decade, but this is the first time the feature has been offered to consumers by a major distributor. Company executives say that Auto Hop is a consumer-friendly improvement on DVR technology.
David Shull, the senior vice president of programming for Dish, said, “This is something that the customers enable.” Dish had invited the networks to talk in detail about Auto Hop after the announcement of its release, but Mr. Shull revealed that, “in the background we heard rumors of lawsuits, so we felt we had to act here.”
The CBS, Fox, and NBC networks accused Dish of copyright infringement in connection with the feature. NBCUniversal, the owner of the NBC network, said that the feature was “unlawful” in a statement. The statement said, “Dish simply does not have the authority to tamper with the ads from broadcast replays on a wholesale basis for its own economic and commercial advantage.”
CBS released a statement about its lawsuit saying that Auto Hop “takes existing network content and modifies it in a manner that is unauthorized and illegal.” Dish disputes that the feature modifies anything because the feature preserves the ads within the recording; it just hides them from sight. There is a window of several hours each night between the time that a show is broadcast and the time that the ad-skipping feature started to work.
Dish was filing its suit in New York around the same time the networks filed their suits in California. According to a news release from the company, the distributor asked for a judgment that Auto Hop “does not infringe any copyrights that could be claimed by the major networks, and that Dish, while providing the Auto Hop feature, remains in compliance with its agreements with the networks. ABC was included the suit by Dish, but an ABC spokesman would not respond to a request for comment about whether ABC would also challenge Dish in court.
Executives at all of the major networks had criticism for Dish on introducing the Auto Hop technology. Executives at Time Warner Cable and media agency Starcom MediaVest Group also spoke out against Auto Hop. Some networks have rejected Dish’s ads for the digital video recorder that includes the Auto Hop feature.